Here is an excerpt from the piece by Lennard Davis & Walter Benn Michaels published in Jacobin. The crucial point: university education for working class students. They are striking for a vision of the university radically different from the one offered by neoliberalism which views education as a consumer item credentialing elites and so manages it via marketeers doing everything they can to dismantle and devalue public education.
Davis and Michaels:
On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456, a member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, will walk out of the classrooms and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in the US in a very long time.
Most of the state research institutions that have unions got them in the 1960s and 1970s, but, in a renewed push to organize campus labor, UIC and the University of Oregon just won certification in the past few years. Oregongot to their contract pretty quickly; we’ve not been as lucky. What we hope now is that, after two years of fighting us followed by a year and a half of stonewalling on our contract negotiations, the Illinois Board of Trustees will finally start serious bargaining on the main issues that divide us.
To understand why we’re striking, it’s useful to know a bit about UIC. It is, indeed, a major research university, but “large, struggling under-funded research university” would be more accurate. We’re more like Wayne State, Temple, or Brooklyn College, say, than Berkeley or Michigan, or even the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But mainly, we like it that way. Unlike the flagships of state universities around the country (never mind selective private colleges), we don’t think our job is mainly to educate the children of the upper middle class.
If you look at college enrollments, almost all the top public schools enroll a large proportion of students from well-off families. At Michigan, for example, more students (16.9 percent) report a family income of over $250,000 than under $50,000 (15.6 percent). That’s why the Education Trust calls these schools “Engines of Inequality.”
But at UIC, that number is nowhere near as high. Only about a third of our students come from families making over $60,000, and many of our students are from immigrant families, live at home, hold full- or part-time jobs, and even have children of their own.
What this means is that we characteristically enroll students whose preparation, as reflected in their ACT scores, isn’t as good as the students at places like Urbana-Champaign. (Family income is a very good predictor of ACT scores.) And we have some real problems with retention (family income is a good predictor of retention, as well).
But the UIC faculty and the UIC administration are completely united on the fact that we don’t think that the way to solve these problems is by getting “stronger” (which is to say, richer) students. In fact, when we put together a “Strategic Thinking Report” back in 2005, we explicitly said we’re not looking to recruit “better” students; we want to do a better job of educating the students we have.
The UIC faculty is committed to that mission. And the whole point of the strike is to help us fulfill it.